Consumers are constantly updated on the latest innovations in running shoes. Arch supports, gel insoles and weather-resistant fabrics are now standard components. Recently, a growing group of runners have gone against the “more is better” trend by beginning to run barefoot.
In his recent best-selling book, “Born to Run,” Christopher McDougall investigates the running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Members of this tribe are able to run hundreds of miles without rest. These tribal runners accomplish these amazing feats by running barefoot or by wearing a leather sandal to protect their soles in rugged terrain.
The human foot is made up of 26 bones held together by small ligaments. These joints are activated by a network of muscles and nerves. There are three anatomic regions to the foot: the forefoot in front, the midfoot and the hindfoot.
Barefoot runners use a different stride that keeps the hip and knee flexed while landing on the forefoot instead of the heel. Running experts believe that this style of running can diminish injuries to hips, knees and low back. Flexing a joint on impact will absorb more shock and avoid trauma to the cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
“The key to beginning a barefoot running program is to start slow on a level, natural surface,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kierstein, a podiatrist in Norwich. “Many runners don’t realize that when using the barefoot technique, they are beginning to use different muscles. Starting out too hard and too fast will injure those muscles and cause stress fractures to the small bones of the foot.”
Barefoot running is not for everyone, but runners who have been able to adapt are enthusiastic about their new sense of freedom.